Maple Leafs Commentary: 2 Likes & 2 Dislikes – Giordano & Bunting

It wasn’t pretty, but it was exciting and nail biting. The Toronto Maple Leafs pulled off a comeback 5-4 overtime home (er road) win over the Ottawa Senators in front of thousands of Maple Leafs’ fans in Ottawa on Saturday night.

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If we think way back to October 27, 2021, the Maple Leafs had struggled out of the gate, starting the season with a terrible 2-4-1 record. They traveled to Chicago and were down 2-0 at the end of the first period. They ultimately fought back and tied the game, then won it in overtime.

That comeback win was the first game of a streak where they won 15 of their next 17 and 20 of their next 25 games. If this game has the same effect on the team, and they put together a similar streak, they should be hoisting the Stanley Cup by the end of it.  

Related: Maple Leafs’ Fans Continuing Love Affair with Felix Potvin

Like any 5-4 game, there was lots to like and lots to dislike. With the short turnaround and the Maple Leafs returning home to take on the New York Islanders, we’ll comment on two things we liked in the game and two we didn’t like.

Comment #1: We Liked Mark Giordano

Mark Giordano had what had to be his best game since joining the Maple Leafs. By now we all know he scored the overtime goal to win the game. He also had the primary assist on Bunting’s goal that made the score 3-2 Senators, and the secondary assists on Kyle Clifford’s tip-in of a Justin Holl shot to open the scoring for the Maple Leafs. 

On the winning overtime goal, it appeared that Anton Forsberg was sure Giordano was going to attempt a cross-ice pass to John Tavares as the shot completely fooled him.

Mark Giordano Toronto Maple Leafs
Mark Giordano, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

Giordano finished the night with 21:29 of ice time (the second-highest since he joined the team), a goal, two assists, and a rating of plus-3. He also added two hits and two blocked shots.

Giordano’s overtime goal made him the oldest Maple Leafs’ player to score an overtime goal, at 38 years and 195 days. He is 25 days older than the previous record-holder, Arty Duncan, who did it in 1929.

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs History of Black Hockey Players

Giordano also becomes the third Maple Leafs’ defenseman 38 years or older to score three points in a game. The other two were Tim Horton and Carl Brewer. (from “Leafs tie franchise wins record in Ottawa and try to keep old habits from creeping in,” Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, 16/04/2022).

Comment #2: We Disliked Bad Decisions Costing Two Goals

It was obvious the only player thinking defense on the Maple Leafs on the game’s opening goal was Erik Kallgren. When T.J. Brodie bounced the puck off Michael Del Zotto’s skate to give Tim Stutzle and Brady Tkachuk the two-on-zero breakaway, all five Maple Leafs’ skaters were inside the face-off dots in the Senators’ zone.  

While we realize the Maple Leafs were trying to pressure the Senators in their zone, either Justin Holl has to realize that Brodie is already in deep and not carry the puck that far into the zone before attempting a cross-ice pass, or Brodie has to see that Holl is coming deep and back up to cover for him. 

Justin Holl Toronto Maple Leafs
Justin Holl, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Both Pierre Engvall and David Kampf were doing their job in front of the net. That leaves it up to Alex Kerfoot, despite being knocked to the ice by Tkachuk, to recognize both defensemen were pinching, and to at least make an effort to get back to the point. We aren’t sure if he was momentarily stunned by the hit, but he was on his feet in plenty of time. For whatever reason, he seemed to just watch the play unfold.

With the score tied 3-3 in the third period, Ilya Lyubushkin must be smarter with the puck. We realize he didn’t plan to fumble the pass back to Morgan Rielly; however, he had two much safer options. One was, rather than attempt a pass in front of the net, to make the pass behind the net, off the boards. He also had Colin Blackwell about ten feet in front of him along the boards. Either choice would have kept the puck away from the center of the ice and out of danger.

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Mistakes like those have contributed greatly to the early exits from the playoffs in the past five seasons. They shouldn’t happen.

Comment #3: We Liked Michael Bunting Catching Fire

Michael Bunting finished the night with a goal and an assist was plus-3 with eight shots on net. After going 17 games without a goal, Bunting now has three goals in his last two games. He also has 14 points in his last 14 games and has become the sixth Maple Leafs’ player to score 60 points this season. That statistic leads the league and is only the third time in the last 25 years that a team has had six players top the 60-point plateau.

Bunting stretched his lead in NHL rookie scoring to six points over second-place Lucas Raymond and closed him to within one goal of Tanner Jeannot, who leads all rookies with 24 goals. Bunting also moves into a tie for fourth place in all-time Maple Leafs’ rookie scoring with Mitch Marner and William Nylander at 61 points.  

Looking to the closing of the regular season, Bunting has seven games to score eight points to tie Auston Matthews for first in all-time Rookie scoring for the Maple Leafs. Between Bunting and Matthews sits Peter Ihnacak with 65 points and Gus Bodnar with 62.

Comment #4: We Disliked the Maple Leafs Player Usage

It is difficult to criticize head Coach Sheldon Keefe for playing Auston Matthews for 23:49 and Mitch Marner for 23:09 in this game. It obviously worked as Marner scored twice to first tie the score at 3-3 and again to knot it at 4-4 to send the game into overtime. Matthews added a key assist.  

We also understand the importance of the team’s psyche to avoid another loss to a team they should beat.

Related: Is it Time for Maple Leafs’ Jason Spezza to Hang Up His Skates?

However, the Maple Leafs are facing a tough defensive, physical team in the Islanders on their second night of back-to-backs. Despite being out of a playoff spot, the Islanders are playing excellent hockey and are 7-3 in their last ten games. The Maple Leafs are lucky the Islanders are, similar to themselves, playing their third game in four nights.

There is also no rest ahead. Following the game tonight, the Maple Leafs only get a day off before playing five games in eight nights including a trip to Florida to take on the Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Joe Thornton Toronto Maple Leafs
Former Maple Leafs’ player Joe Thornton is now with the Florida Panthers
(Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

It will be up to Keefe to depend on anyone not named Matthews or Marner to carry more of the load similar to the way they did in the 7-3 win over the Washington Capitals.  

[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]